That cool new smartphone you got this holiday season can help you find a cool new place to live if you're planning on going house-hunting in 2013.
That's because real estate firms, listing services, mortgage companies and more have thousands of free smartphone apps available to help you find your piece of the American Dream.
"There are a number of different apps that can show you what houses are for sale or what's previously sold near wherever you happen to be," says Daniel Terdiman, a senior writer at electronics-review site CNET.com who's using mobile apps in his family's search for a San Francisco-area home.
Terdiman says good house-hunting apps use your smartphone's global-positioning system to figure out where you are, then provide a wealth of information about nearby listings.
"These apps are definitely a good thing to have when we're out and about looking at houses," he says. "It's like filling in the gaps of things you can't know about a listing because you're not near a computer."
Here's a look at six free smartphone apps that anyone who's looking for a new pad should definitely check out:
This property-listing app from Web-based real estate firm Redfin is Terdiman's favorite.
"The interface is very intuitive, and they've really spent a lot of time thinking about what people looking for houses actually need," he says.
Redfin's app uses your choice of a touchscreen map or a powerful search engine to look up current listings, recent sales or upcoming open houses anywhere in America.
Simply enter a ZIP code or the name of a city or neighborhood you want to check out, or type in "Current Location" to see listings near your present position.
Terdiman says Redfin does a better job than other property-listing apps in indicating whether a home for sale is already "under agreement." That's where someone has signed a contract to buy the place but hasn't yet closed on a deal.
Homes under agreement are still technically for sale, but not worth spending much time on unless the pending sale falls through.
"I've found that with some of the other apps, you'll say: 'This place looks great!" -- and then you realize the home is already [under agreement]," Terdiman says.
This app is best known for providing mobile access to website Zillow.com's popular "Zestimates" -- projected current market values for virtually every home in America.
Zillow calculates Zestimates using special algorithms that compare each property's square footage and other characteristics to those of recently sold nearby homes.
Using your smartphone's GPS, the Zillow app will automatically give you Zestimates for all residences near your current location or any other area you select. (You pick areas other than your present position by plugging a ZIP code or city name into the app, or by simply drawing a circle with your finger on the included map.)
In addition to providing Zestimates for nearby homes, the Zillow app will also show you details about all area properties for sale or rent. You'll also get data on houses that have recently sold, as well as estimated values of homes in the foreclosure process but not yet on the market.
The app also includes calculators to help estimate whether you can afford a given house or whether refinancing your existing mortgage makes sense. You can even get rates from Zillow's mortgage advertisers and initiate contact with a lender if you like what you see.
A relative newcomer among house-hunting apps, HomeSnap is getting rave reviews for its ability to let you take a snapshot of a home using your smartphone's camera and instantly get information about the property.
You can find out the home's estimated value, along with whether it's for sale and how many bedrooms, bathrooms and other amenities it has. Even if the home isn't available, HomeSnap will show you other nearby listings that are.
That said, the app's ability to find homes using your smartphone's camera is something of a gimmick.
While you can store snapshots you take or even share them with friends, HomeSnap doesn't actually use photo-recognition software to figure out what house you're looking at.
Instead, the app uses your phone's GPS to determine where you are and what property you've just photographed.
This app from the National Association of Realtors' official property-listing site lets you easily find homes that are for sale or rent near your current location. You can also find nearby upcoming open houses, as well as pricing data on properties that have recently changed hands.
Realtor.com's app lets you view properties either as a list or on a map that's centered on your current location. As with Zillow's app, you can also draw a circle on the map with your finger to define what area you want to check out.
Another useful tool is Realtor.com's "Area Scout." This feature shows you a neighborhood's current average asking price, average available square footage and average price per square foot.